Wood-Fired Beer: Brewing up the Sapling Summer Kolsch

August 12, 2020

Wood-fired beer. It’s a thing! And we made a quick and easy Sapling Summer Kolsch to prove it!

Sapling Summer Kolsch: a recipe created for Vermont Evaporator by 1st Republic Brewing Company.

We’ve done it again. We’ve discovered another perfectly good use for our Sapling Evaporator.  Where once there was “only” syrup making, grilling, smoking and wood-fired pizza and bread baking, there is now another thing the Sapling can do: brew beer!

Wood-fired beer. Is that a thing? It must have been at some point. And, according to this brewery, and these homebrewers it still is. So we tried it! Here’s how it went. (Spoiler alert: it went well!)

Kate: Thanks for taking on the challenge of making wood-fired beer on your Sapling Evaporator, Nikki!  What kind of beer did you make?

Nikki: We’re calling it the Sapling Summer Kolsch. Our friends at 1st Republic Brewing Company—a Burlington-area, craft beer company with a homebrew shop—created an extract kit for us and we brewed it up on our Sapling.

Step 1: Fill pan with 7 gallons of water and start the fire.

We chose an extract kit instead of an all-grain kit for our first batch on the Sapling for ease, but we may try all-grain in the future. The Kolsch is fermenting as we speak, and will be ready to drink just in time for the last few weeks of summer.

Kate: Cool! How much homebrewing experience do you have?

Nikki: I’ve helped people homebrew about a dozen times. So, I’m not a total newbie, but I don’t have a ton of experience either.

Kate: Ok. How long did it take for you to brew this batch of beer on the Sapling?

Nikki: Setup to cleanup, I’d say three hours, including about one and a half hours of hands-on time.

Kate: That’s a 1:1 work-to-butt-sitting-ratio! Nice. Give me the details. How did you do it? 

Step 2: At 180 degrees, add extract and stir.

Nikki: Yes! It was great. OK. First we found a relatively flat and shady spot and made sure the Sapling was pretty level. Then we put 7 gallons of water in the Sapling and lit a fire.

Normally, homebrew recipes start with 5 gallons of water, but you usually brew in a tall and narrow pot. The Sapling Evaporator Pan is short and wide—engineered for faster evaporation—and so the folks at 1st Republic suggested we add a couple gallons of water to the recipe to accommodate our pan. The adjustment was spot on.

When the water reached 180 degrees (we used a digital thermometer to measure temperature) we added the extract and stirred it in. Then we continued to add firewood until the wort was boiling throughout. All-in, it took us about 40 minutes to get the whole thing boiling.

(This is slightly longer than the 20 or 30 minutes it takes to bring maple sap to a boil when we’re using our Sapling to make syrup, but that’s because, when sugaring, we start with just 5 gallons.)

Step 3: Bring to a boil, adding hops at minutes 30 and 55.

When our batch was boiling throughout the pan, we set a timer for hop additions at 30 minutes and 55 minutes and hung out on lawn chairs in the shade, adding wood to keep the boil going as needed.

At about minute 45 or 50, we stopped adding wood, and at minute 60, we poured all but 1 inch or so of our batch into a big pot. We then carefully lifted the pan off the Sapling, placed it on a sturdy wooden picnic bench, and poured off the rest of the batch.

(You never want to leave stainless steel over a fire with nothing on the other side, so this was an important, if slightly awkward, step.)

Finally, we got our batch into the carboy by means of a giant funnel, and put it in a cool, dry place to ferment.

Step 4: Pour off after 60 minutes of boiling.

Kate: Awesome. Would you homebrew on your Sapling again?

Nikki: Yes! Absolutely. It was easy and fun. Just another excuse to sit around a wood- fire with the family. We loved it. Plus: beer! And we did it without heating up the house during this very hot August we’re having, or making a mess of the kitchen.

I didn’t even clean up the pan until a day or so later. And then it was just a matter of hosing it down outside.

Kate: Right! Could anyone with a Sapling Evaporator do this, or do you have to be friends with a brewmaster?

Nikki: Anyone could do this exactly like we did by just picking up an extract kit and starting with 7 gallons of water instead of 5. In fact, they can contact 1st Republic Brewing Company and order the “Sapling Summer Kolsch” by name. Having always brewed with all-grain kits, I was surprised at how easy the extract kit was. It’s a great way to start homebrewing.

Step 5: Carboy!

Kate: Awesome. Have you ever heard of wood-fired beer? Would you order it in a bar, if that’s ever a thing again?

Nikki: I’ve never heard of wood-fired beer. I’m really excited to try ours, and I would totally try it in a bar. You know me!

Kate: Ha! Is any part of you thinking this is your beer strategy for the apocalypse?

Nikki: Yes. Our second batch is already underway. So we are nearly ready for the end of daze. . .